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Anti-extremism watchdog would ‘welcome’ being covered by transparency law

THE Commission for Countering Extremism has said it would “welcome” being covered by the Freedom of Information Act after the Morning Star questioned why the watchdog was exempt from the powerful transparency law.

This comes a week after the commission published its debut report, Challenging Hateful Extremism, which warned about what it called the “far left’s conflation of anti-imperialism and anti-semitism.”

Another research paper, on Sikh extremism, had to be withdrawn “for legal issues” after Sikh groups said it was “filled with sweeping generalisations and poorly substantiated claims.”

The commission was launched in 2018 by then home secretary Amber Rudd and has a £500,000 research budget.

It describes itself as an “independent, non-statutory expert committee of the Home Office” with a remit to challenge “all forms of extremism.”

However, it had a shaky start after the post of lead commissioner was given to Sara Khan, an activist whom Tory peer Sayeeda Warsi warned was “sadly seen by many as simply a creation of and mouthpiece for the Home Office.”

Despite the watchdog claiming to be independent of that government department, a commission job advert states: “All staff are employed under Civil Service terms as members of the Home Office.”

The Home Office is subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) and the commission initially responded to a freedom of information request, according to correspondence archived on the What Do They Know website.

However, it now maintains it is not covered by the transparency law and, while claiming to be “committed to transparency,” it only answers requests for information on a voluntary basis.

This means that requesters have no right of appeal to the Information Tribunal if they are dissatisfied with the response.

A commission spokesperson told the Star: “We are not currently covered under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. 

“However, we do receive and respond to FOI-style questions as if we were covered by the Act.
 
“Our new report Challenging Hateful Extremism calls on the government to put the commission [on] a statutory basis to increase independent oversight and transparency of counter-hateful extremism work.

“As part of this, we would welcome being covered by the FOI Act.”

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